I read this because the HBO miniseries gave me a convenient excuse to read not only this book, but also E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed, two books ab...moreI read this because the HBO miniseries gave me a convenient excuse to read not only this book, but also E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed, two books about John Basilone, and other books that deal with the Pacific theater of World War II. I read most of these in tandem and they helped to support and reinforce the "big picture" of this time period.
I really ended up liking this book but it took me a little while to get to that point, mainly because I expected of this book what With the Old Breed supplies: concise and detailed memories of the war, backed up with maps and historical records in straightforward prose.
Instead, this book is very lyrical in its language and almost impressionistic in its presentation of events. People aren't named outright except for nicknames, and we don't get to know them in depth as people. The author gives the horror of war the seriousness it deserves but doesn't give "big picture" explanations about battles, which leaves the reader a little disoriented as to how everything fits together. The book is very reflective and contemplative about war, life and death, but also has enough humor to temper the somber nature of this kind of narrative.
A must read first person account for anyone interested in this area of history. (less)
When I started to read this book I realized that though I had read many books about World War II, I hadn't read very many, if any, memoirs from those...moreWhen I started to read this book I realized that though I had read many books about World War II, I hadn't read very many, if any, memoirs from those who did the actual fighting. This is what made this read such an immediate experience, and really makes clear how horrible the experiences were on Peleliu and Okinawa (and by extension any battle in the Pacific).
The details the author supplies about the rain, the heat, the rats, the mud, the maggots, the death of friends, the killing of enemies, the rotting of bodies, all help you to understand the absolute shock to the system this kind of brutal and unforgiving warfare delivered to the men fighting on these islands. The fighting and weariness was maddeningly repetitive in its brutality and the toll it takes on everyone is godawful.
Anybody who has seen the HBO miniseries The Pacific should really pick this book up and find out for themselves how much was left out and what changes were made to the facts to make the miniseries a bit more dramatic (unnecessarily so in my opinion since the source material was fine to begin with). (less)
I read and enjoyed this densely detailed book at the same time I watched the HBO miniseries, read the books the miniseries were based on, and while I...moreI read and enjoyed this densely detailed book at the same time I watched the HBO miniseries, read the books the miniseries were based on, and while I read other books about the Pacific theater of WW2.
The book follows the paths of five men before, during, and after the war. It weaves together everyone's story in chronological order (for example giving you the date on which one man may be training in the United States while on the same date another is in a Japanese POW camp) which at times gives the narrative a stop-and-go feel to it, but once you understand and get used to the format you can fully appreciate the epic scope of the war and how varied any one person's experience can be at any given moment.
Since this is a full fledged effort at chronicling a war, those who read this book hoping for a quick summary of the events in the miniseries will have their patience tested, and those who read this after having read the books written by some of the protagonists may be bored by being familiar with the material but will find new pieces of information to add to their understanding of the events.
One big plus of the book is that it gives better factual coverage of John Basilone than either of the other two books available about him (this Cutter/Proser book or this Brady book).
I wish it had come with an index, but otherwise a great introduction and overview of this part of the war.
Right on the cover of this book is the first warning that what you are going to read may not be completely true: "authorized biography". The second wa...moreRight on the cover of this book is the first warning that what you are going to read may not be completely true: "authorized biography". The second warning comes when you find that one of the authors is Basilone's nephew. The third warning comes when you start to read the book and find it written from the first-person POV of John Basilone himself.
With these facts in mind, any reader (with their critical thinking cap tightly worn) interested in learning about Basilone and his life will find this book an engaging and very readable "auto" biography. The first-person POV does make the story more immediate and fresh but does lend itself to moments of confusion, such as when 'Basilone' says "I had nothing against Japanese people then and the truth is I got nothing against them now..." When, exactly, is this 'now'? Since we're never sure of when (from Basilone's POV) this narration is taking place, or who exactly is recording it, this awkwardly reminds the reader that someone else is doing all the writing and makes the book more of a novelization than a straightforward biography.
But really, if you can accept the autobiographical premise, and realize that the more personal and family-oriented material may be more true than those parts which nobody but Basilone could really know, the book is a rewarding read.
It may help to know some of the contemporary history surrounding Basilone but the authors helpfully insert relevant information from time to time, outside of John Basilone's narration.
The book does end with Basilone's death with no further information about reactions to his death or what became of the people in his life. James Brady's Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone does give some additional information, plus lots of criticism about information found in this book and other sources, but has its own problems as well.
A good read indeed if you keep in mind all its potential drawbacks.
I read this book right after finishing the only other readily available Basilone biography, I'm Staying with My Boys: The Heroic Life of Sgt. John Bas...moreI read this book right after finishing the only other readily available Basilone biography, I'm Staying with My Boys: The Heroic Life of Sgt. John Basilone, USMC. Brady takes issue with that book because it was co-written by Jerry Cutter, a nephew of Basilone's, which itself was based on a serialized account written by Cutter's mother (Basilone's sister) that was published in a newspaper. He calls these attempts at biography "amateurish and fanciful, admiring but brief on fact." You would think that with this type of contempt for the material Brady wouldn't rely very much on them for his book. The problem is that these (plus a third source with its own questionability) are the only sources he has to work with.
And work with them he does. He quotes paragraphs and pages (pages!) worth of the material he treats with such scorn one minute and with unfailing trust the next. Literally in the same passage he will insert some snarky question so that the reader is aware of his own skepticism (something like "Really? How could that be possible") and only a sentence or two later will insert another intrusive question or comment that may or may not contribute in any way (such as "Could this have been a sign of something?") but signals to the reader that he trusts completely what was written.
Now those two examples are generalities, not exact quotes from the book, but they represent the kind of schizophrenic back and forth total belief and utter disbelief he has in the material.
The issues he has with technical matters, be it weapons or military, are on point, which he backs up with his own military service (that he is not afraid to remind the reader about again and again and again). The issues he has with conflicting stories are also to be expected. But it's with a flippant, almost rude, tone that he criticizes everything and flaunts both his military and literary background to make himself the authority in what is true or not in Basilone's story.
And that's the other problem. Too much of Brady makes its way into Basilone's story. The author makes a big show of how much he has researched the life of this Marine legend. For example, he goes to Raritan to speak to people who for the most part have only a small connection to Basilone himself. The distance in time calls into question the veracity of whatever these people have to contribute---one is a man who was six years old when he briefly met Basilone---and those who were old enough to be Basilone's friends or elders are quoted at length, but corrections to obvious misinformation is inserted right away by Brady himself. How can we trust these sources?
Brady has a hard time being an arbiter of truth when he alternately discredits or believes his sources (yet quotes them at great length) when he himself is sometimes questionable in his methods for determining authenticity. He does admit at times that some things will never be known for sure, but these moments of honesty are few and are tainted with his overbearing attitude.
I don't believe the book is a waste of time, but it's the style and tone in which it is delivered that is unfortunate. I know Brady died after writing it, but I'm not sure how long after---is this a cleaned up version of a first draft or a 20th draft? The lack of footnotes or endnotes is troubling because we can't scrutinize his sources or determine where this or that fact came from, and the bibliography isn't much help. Having read the other Basilone book before reading this one, it's apparent that Brady quotes at length, comments, then paraphrases material following the quote at length, and comments. What some may think is his own research-filled descriptions of events are merely rehashed source material.
The book is an exasperating but informative read. You get more details about Basilone, especially with what happened after his death, and some insight into the problems of sorting legend from fact. I recommend that this book be read along with the Jerry Cutter/Jim Proser book since these are the only two books available about John Basilone. A clear and decisive account of Basilone's life may never be written but, taken with a grain or more of salt, both biographies are rewarding in their own ways. As always, it's up to the reader to determine what they want to believe about a legend like John Basilone.
I read this while reading E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed and watching the HBO miniseries The Pacific. The author of this book is featured in both, a...moreI read this while reading E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed and watching the HBO miniseries The Pacific. The author of this book is featured in both, and his experiences are worth the read. The before, during, and after of joining the Marines, training, fighting, and going home will be familiar to anyone who has read any of the memoirs dealing with this area and time, but it's the details and unique point of view of the same events that will reward the reader.
Burgin basically wants to tell his story and succeeds, laying everything out simply and directly. He tells of the horror of fighting on New Britain, Peleliu, and Okinawa, the discomforts of Pavuvu, the wonders of Australia, and his life before and after the war. This is a great read for anyone interested in the subject, especially since there aren't too many first person memoirs from soldiers who fought these particular battles.
One other thing I liked about the book is that it showed just how much artistic license the HBO miniseries took with the facts. I really liked that the miniseries was made but showing untrue things for dramatic affect sometimes isn't for the better. It's a minor squabble but at the end, Burgin doesn't ride along with Sledge and Snafu on the train going home: he left long before they did and in fact flew home once he reached the states. My hope is that the movie version inspires people to read about what actually happened.(less)
Any fan of the 'Band of Brothers' will be rewarded by reading this book.
I read this at the same time I read A Company of Heroes by Marcus Brotherton a...moreAny fan of the 'Band of Brothers' will be rewarded by reading this book.
I read this at the same time I read A Company of Heroes by Marcus Brotherton and they work very well together, as I mentioned in my review of that book.
This is a travelogue and history of the 'Band of Brothers' experiences in World War II Europe enriched by the memories of Forrest Guth, who accompanied the author to most of the places covered. I really enjoyed the then-and-now approach to each location and the clarifying of information that either the original Ambrose book or HBO miniseries got wrong. The biggest (intentional for the miniseries) "mistake" was the fact that Webster didn't go along as the interpreter in the POW raid at Hagenau: it was Guth himself.
A great book for fans to revisit and learn new facts or a great place to start for newcomers to this time in history.
A couple of things to note: the book somewhat follows Guth's adventures and Easy Company battlefields, so the travelogue ends at Hagenau. The author tries to get away with not going further by saying he stuck only to battlefields, but he does have chapters on non-battle locales such as Camp Toccoa and Aldbourne, and even battles at which Guth wasn't present. It was disappointing that the book didn't cover all of Easy's trek through Europe but that's a small quibble.
I did have more of a problem with the penultimate chapter, which had nothing to do with the rest of the book. It followed a different Easy Company, one in which his father-in-law belonged, and a different battle, and it feels shoehorned in. I understand it was personal to the author, and it was in the area of the trip overall, but to have it in front of the last chapter, it interrupted the flow and kind of forces the reader to read it. I wish it had been placed outside the narrative of the main story.
This is essential reading for anyone who is a fan of the 'Band of Brothers' (like me!).
I picked up this book years after reading the original Ambrose...moreThis is essential reading for anyone who is a fan of the 'Band of Brothers' (like me!).
I picked up this book years after reading the original Ambrose book and watching the HBO miniseries about the now famous Easy Company paratroopers. This collection of memories was a wonderful re-introduction to 26 of the men who made up the company, all from personal accounts by their surviving family members. Everyone's life before, during, and after are recounted here and are broken up into four sections: Enlisted men, NCOs, Officers, and those who were killed during the war.
I read this book at the same time I read In the Footsteps of the Band of Brothers by Larry Alexander, and that was the best way to read them: together. They complemented each other greatly by supplying details in one that may have been passingly referred to in another. Case in point: "Salty" Harris is mentioned in Footsteps as having died as a pathfinder but doesn't really elaborate. In this book, there is a whole chapter on Harris by his nephew.
Each chapter works wonders in filling in the gaps in knowledge about these individuals, many of whom did not live the happiest of lives after the war. As well, the book works to clarify misinformation from the original book and miniseries, the two biggest mistakes being the death of Albert Blithe (he did get wounded but didn't die of those wounds, and lived for a long time after) and the most surprising, that Joseph Liebgott wasn't Jewish (a fact straight from Liebgott's son).
I liked this book as an intro to the battle at Midway. For being just under 100 pages of text, pictures, and illustrations, it gives you a great overv...moreI liked this book as an intro to the battle at Midway. For being just under 100 pages of text, pictures, and illustrations, it gives you a great overview of the events and players involved. I guess I'm really a fat book kind of guy because while I learned a lot, I know lots of details were left out and I'm eager to read a couple of door-stoppers to fill in all the gaps.(less)
Any story of being imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp during World War 2 is bound to be horrifying and compelling, but this one is exactly that---and m...moreAny story of being imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp during World War 2 is bound to be horrifying and compelling, but this one is exactly that---and more, due to the fact that it covers life in a woman's POW camp, a point of view not normally described in POW memoirs (since they're mostly written by male soldiers or civilians)[If I'm wrong about that please let me know!].
Agnes Newton Keith writes matter-of-factly the details of life in Borneo before, during, and after capture by the Japanese, the horrible conditions they (men and women, but in different camps) were kept alive in, the brutal treatment she and others received from the authorities, and the struggle to provide the best care she could for her young son.
Written in 1950, Keith writes with as much honesty as was possible for the time (and probably even beyond), so some details are a surprise to read but for the most part you can tell at times that she was writing around certain subjects or avoided them altogether. This doesn't take away at all, though, since what does end up in the book is still enough to make you wonder how anyone could have survived for all those years in those terrible conditions.
The movie version (with Claudette Colbert) is an interesting if somewhat cleaned up and, at time, overdone version of the book (one scene in particular wasn't factually true but was true to how ruthless the Japanese soldiers were to prisoners).
All in all, the one thing the author wants to get across is how she never hated the Japanese as a people, that she knew war and power changes those involved, and while she hated individuals it never made her lose her faith in people in general. A good lesson to learn indeed.(less)
Having read a few Guadalcanal combat memoirs, I was glad to read this book since it covers the battle between the Japanese and U.S. navies in the wate...moreHaving read a few Guadalcanal combat memoirs, I was glad to read this book since it covers the battle between the Japanese and U.S. navies in the waters surrounding the island, helping to put in context everything I've read about the fighting on the island itself.
The book is very detailed about the circumstances of the U.S. Navy at this specific moment in time, the main problem that of fighting a war with a vastly reduced fleet due to the Japanese success at Pearl Harbor. Everything that was done was filled with the tension of not knowing if it was the right thing to do, about strategically using what was available, getting it to where it was needed, and being careful not to be overly cautious or overly confident. The Japanese side of things is covered too, with their problems very different but just as debilitating.
The same attention to detail covers the battles. From both sides (though more from the American side) we hear just how terrifying it was to be in the ships, waiting for the enemy to appear; how terrifying it was to be on the ships when the huge guns were fired, causing people and things to be violently rocked wherever they were on the ship; how terrifying it was to be on a ship that was hit by enemy fire, with metal, heat, shrapnel and water killing people seemingly at random. About 5 battles are covered in detail, almost overwhelming detail at times, with only the last battle covered minimally.
I don't know of any other book that specifically covers the Navy battles of Guadalcanal, and since it does so with great attention to detail I mark this as a definite read for anyone who wants to get a more complete picture of what happened on and around the island at what was the beginning of the U.S. involvement in the war in the Pacific.(less)
This is the sequel to Urwin's Facing Fearful Odds, a book which covered in great detail the WW2 battle of Wake Island between U.S. and Japanese forces...moreThis is the sequel to Urwin's Facing Fearful Odds, a book which covered in great detail the WW2 battle of Wake Island between U.S. and Japanese forces. Far outnumbered (and outgunned), the mix of U.S. civilians and military personnel (mostly Marines) resisted a naval invasion on this dot of land for two weeks before being ordered to surrender.
This new book chronicles the lives of these men as POWs. The battle is briefly covered in the beginning, then heads straight into the minutes immediately after their surrender and details everything from how they were treated by varying members of Japanese military (not everybody was a brute, but they were few and far between), to the medical ailments they suffered, the conditions of the camps, the problems of food, supplies, and infighting among not only civilian and military folk but even within military groups.
Anyone familiar with POW narratives will know what to expect from the brutal details that accompany them, and this is no exception. The horror show of living in squalid conditions for close to four years is gut wrenching at the very least but always rewarding for the historical significance they shed on a time and place that in some ways can't easily be imagined, but in others can be all too familiar and repeatable.
This detailed history is a must for anyone who enjoyed Facing Fearful Odds. Wake Island is just one piece of the WW2 Pacific Theater puzzle but it is a fascinating and rewarding subject.(less)
Nothing beats reading someone's first-hand account since the details are personal and immediate. Guadalcanal Diary is just that, the author in this ca...moreNothing beats reading someone's first-hand account since the details are personal and immediate. Guadalcanal Diary is just that, the author in this case a reporter who was with U.S. forces when they landed on Guadalcanal (and surrounding islands) on August 7, 1942 in order to fight the Japanese for the island's top resource: a strategically important airfield.
Tregaskis was the first to write and publish a book about the events that happened those first few months on the island---in fact the book was published before the fighting was entirely done on Guadalcanal, and a movie version of the book was filmed and shown by October of 1943, mere months after the book was published. (The film has some pretty good battle scenes, but doesn't really bear much resemblance to the book since it follows a cast of characters that aren't in the book.)
Events are chronicled day by day, in diary format, starting July 26, 1942 and ending September 26, 1942. It's a straightforward and clear account of what he sees, hears, thinks and feels firsthand, as well as things he didn't see himself but hears about from the people who were there. He covers the major events of those first couple of months (the uneventful landing of Guadalcanal, the eventful landings of nearby Gavutu and Tulagi, Tenaru River, the battle for Henderson Airfield, and the eventual battles between U.S. and Japanese forces in the jungles and in the mountains).
It all makes for a unique, one of a kind source of information about the Battle for Guadalcanal, but my only little quibble with this book is that there is an odd kind of airlessness in the writing. Tregaskis write honestly and clearly (even so far as including swear words spoken by Marines, albeit with letters missing), and his descriptions of being shot at or shelled are factually poignant but a little flat at the same time. I'm sure at the time of publication this was a breakthrough in wartime writing, since it was immediate and timely, but there have been other first hand accounts written since then of these same events that more vividly evoke the heat, pain, rain and general awfulness.
This is a great book about the start of the Battle for Guadalcanal, but I hope it's only the first of many memoirs read by those interested in these events. If you've read any of those others already, this should definitely be the next one to read.
n.b.: There is a factual mistake in the "Wednesday, August 12" entry, in which Col. Edson tells Tregaskis about the Tulagi campaign: "Our landing was [at 8:15 A.M. on Friday, August 12] at the northwest part." Since this conversation took place on the 12th (a Wednesday) and the landing date for everyone was the previous Friday, August 7, the date should be the 7th, not the 12th. The information is bracketed so I guess it was an editor's insertion, but I'm not sure if that editor was Tregaskis or not. Small mistake but it threw me off since I was keeping track of the days as I was reading.(less)
This is a very interesting and quick read. This reporter's account of one battle in one valley on Guadalcanal, in October 1942, helps illustrate what...moreThis is a very interesting and quick read. This reporter's account of one battle in one valley on Guadalcanal, in October 1942, helps illustrate what everyone on that island went through day to day with the very specific details of this one fight.
I read this right after reading Richard Tregaskis's Guadalcanal Diary, which is fitting since Diary ends on September 26, 1942 and Valley starts just a week or two later. I like both books for what they are able to convey about the Guadalcanal campaign, but Hersey's is a little different in that he adds a forward to his own book 46 years after its first publication which gives invaluable insight into his own experience that really makes this book a treasure. This story of the small, no-name battle is itself a valuable addition to the canon of Guadalcanal first-person accounts (it isn't a decisive battle by any means), but it's the forward that enhances everything overall.
Hersey himself provides clarifying information on what we're about to read, letting us know his regret in using such racially denigrating language even though it was de rigueur for the time, telling us he did carry a gun but couldn't say so outright in the book, and commenting on his different outlook on certain things between then and 'now'. He also talks about his use of silly words in place of swear words, which makes me wonder why Tregaskis was able to leave them in (with dashes for the middle letters) rather than replacing them outright like Hersey did.
The battle itself is a tense fight, and you get to meet a captain who is doing his best to lead his men. And the men are portrayed as being only human, slowly being worn down by the elements and fighting their every instinct for self-preservation in the most trying of situations. This a brief but intense account that anyone who is interested in Guadalcanal should read.
n.b.: There's one little tidbit that makes me wonder about Hersey, and it's found in his forward. He recounts a story that he says personally happened to him but, having read Guadalcanal Diary, I found this same story being called a 'yarn' (i.e. a tall tale). Since Hersey's story takes place after Tregaskis's, I can think one of two things happened: either Hersey heard the story when he was on the island and decided to bend the truth and say it happened to him; or the story became such on the island that it was re-enacted for the sake of any journalist passenger. I hope the latter is true because this calls into question what Hersey considers the truth. I don't know if after so much time had passed he mistakenly thinks a story he had heard second or third hand is a personal experience, but it seems to me that that's quite a gaffe to make. Considering both books were published in the same year I find it hard to believe Hersey never read Tregaskis's book. If he had, he would've seen that his personal story predated his arrival. Relevant passages from both books are quoted here so you can decide for yourself:
Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis (from entry dated Friday, August 29) And so the yarning went on, and finally somebody told the classic story about the two marine jeep drivers on Guadalcanal, supposedly a true story, very true, anyhow, in its essential American psychology. It was about two jeeps passing in the night, one with proper dim-out headlights, the other with glaring bright lights. So the driver of the dim-light car leans out as they pass and shouts to the other driver: "Hey! Put your f-----g lights out!" To which the other replies: "I can't. I've got a f-----g colonel with me!"
Into the Valley: A Skirmish of the Marines by John Hersey (from the forward) After dark, one night, I hitched a ride in a jeep around the perimeter of Henderson Field. The enlisted driver, obeying regulations, was poking along very slowly with his lights out. A jeep came in the opposite direction with headlights blazing. As we passed, my driver shouted to the other one, "Turn your fucking lights out!" The other driver called back, "I can't. I've got the fucking colonel with me."(less)